A jaunt round the Hebrides…

Hebridean Princess alongside in Loch Tarbert, Harris

Several people have asked me what I thought about the recent trip I took around the Hebrides, so here’s brief write up of what it was all about…

We were aboard the Hebridean Princess which used to be owned by an independent company until it ran into financial problems. They sold off one of their ships, the Hebridean Spirit, to an oil sheikh who used it as a private yacht before flogging it on to Noble Caledonia who now run it as the Caledonia Sky. I’ve been on that ship several times so comparisons are inevitable – especially as the style is very similar on both ships.

Hebridean Princess is now owned by Swan Hellenic and holds a maximum of 49 people – although there were only 41 on this trip. Cal Sky holds around 100. The cabins on our trip were quite small by comparison to the other ship which is all suite. Nevertheless they are very well appointed and perfectly formed as they say! On the Princess the bar is included in the price as is just about everything on and off the ship – right down to picking up the tab in the local cafe if you needed refreshment. My shipboard account came to zero!

We pulled out of Oban after a coach transfer from Glasgow airport. Flight timings were horrendous and we arrived at 9:15 then hung around in the local Holiday Inn in a day room waiting for the 3pm pick up. £50 for the room and you can’t blame Hebridean for the timings. We were on a last minute offer which included the flights which made the trip affordable. I would not have paid full price!

Oban on a sunny Tuesday evening…

Weather in Oban was crap. We pulled out in the rain. Lifeboat drill on deck was not fun. Now I know you can’t legislate for the weather, so fair play. However it already impacted on the itinerary. On day 2 we were supposed to go to Canna and Skye. Instead we diverted to Eigg and were unable to land on Canna at all so carried on to Port Harcourt on Skye. One passenger did comment that she’d done the trip several times and the itinerary was always compromised. If you’re familiar with these sorts of trips, you kinda expect this to happen!

An Sgurr ridge on the island of Eigg

Anyway, Eigg was very pleasant and we enjoyed a good walk in the peace and quiet. Afternoon at sea, free bar, comfy chairs. We overnighted at Skye and enjoyed a gala dinner – officers in dress uniform, us in monkey suits. Good job I invest £1.79 in that bow tie I bought on eBay (kid you not!).

The round garden at Dunvegan Castle

Next day we went off to try some oysters. I’d never tried them. Mrs D seemed to enjoy them but for me it’s an acquired taste I don’t seem to have acquired! Lunch back on board and a trip to Dunvegan Castle. We timed it perfectly as the heavens opened as we walked through the door. Interesting castle with spectacular views and extensive gardens – once the rain had eased.

Luskentyre Beach on the island of Harris

Friday arrived and we’re on Harris. Excellent coach tour around the island which had spectacular beaches before the inevitable merchandising opportunity to buy Harris tweed. We didn’t buy any. I was particularly amused at the Harris Tweed iPad Covers. FFS!

Going ashore on Shiant – no wet feet here!

After lunch we went ashore in geriatrically adapted Zodiacs on the Shiant Islands. Really nice to go somewhere unspoilt where you can walk across the peat bogs and rocks and see nobody but the people you came ashore with. Following the walk we had a short Zodiac ride along the cliffs to look at the guillemotes and puffins.

The walled garden at Inverewe

Saturday eventually arrives and we’re put ashore on a private jetty at Inverewe Gardens for a wander about before lunch back on the boat and a couple of hours cruise down to Ullapool where we’re berthed for the night. We make a hastily arranged visit to a local artist’s studio because the weather is closing in and we can’t follow the itinerary we were supposed to follow.

The Skye Bridge basking in the afternoon sun – not.

Next morning, it’s off on a coach to Corrieshallock Gorge where there’s quite a nice waterfall and back to the ship for lunch before running for cover from the weather underneath the Skye bridge where, as you can see from the picture, there’s a bit of rain coming in. The trip down has been a bit choppy to say the least but we manage to find a sheltered anchorage on the east side of Skye.

The ruins of Armadale Castle

Next morning it’s off across Skye to the Clan Donald centre at Armadale Castle where there’s some nice gardens and a clan museum. The weather is deteriorating fast but we manage to look around before the heavens open then it’s back to sea heading south. We were hoping to get to the island of Canna on the way back as we missed it earlier in the cruise, but the wind is too high and we abandon the plan, anchoring instead in a steep sided loch where it’s really rather pleasant.

Another gala dinner that evening where we can all dress up in stuff my wardrobe regards as foreign then it’s into the bar and off to bed. Tuesday arrives and we’re chucked off disembarked after breakfast onto the coach to Glasgow Airport, another day room at the Holiday Inn and an early evening flight back home.

Conclusion :

It’s been a good trip despite the weather. Was it worth it? Yes, I’d say so but then we got a good last minute discount. Would I have paid the full price? Not in a million years. The discount alone has paid for my next two holidays. I’m back on the Caledonia Sky in a couple of months for a trip around the top end of Australia. Bearing in mind this was a 7 day trip in the UK, the cost of a three week trip around Oz including flights and a side trip after the cruise to Ayres Rock with a trip on the Ghan train back to Darwin is about 50% more than the full price of this cruise puts it into perspective, I feel.

You might recall that in January we did a trip from Cape Town to Dar es Salaam on the Rovos Rail ‘Pride of Africa’. That was expensive too, but you got what you paid for. On this trip I did feel that you paid extra because the Queen has chartered the boat in the past. Like Bollinger champagne, you pay extra for the label, perhaps?

I met a lady who had travelled on this ship 22 times. It’s good – but it’s not that good. If you’ve got plenty of money, go for it but otherwise there’s better value to be had elsewhere.

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